Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#761 Akron 145 vs.
#762 West Virginia -11.5
Friday, November 8, 2019 at 7:00pm EST
Mountaineer Field, Morgantown
Written by Chris Altruda

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#761 University of Akron
#762 West Virginia University
1-0
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68
73
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Akron at West Virginia

When and Where: Friday, Nov. 8, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Va., 7 p.m. EST.

Though "Country Roads" led Bob Huggins back to his alma mater at West Virginia, a piece of his coaching roots will be part of Friday night's series opener against Akron, the school where he got his first Division I coaching job.

Groce looks to ignite Zips offense with 2-PG attack

John Groce's third season in charge of Akron sees him looking to improve a struggling offense from 2018-19 that failed to take advantage of a very good defense.

The Zips (1-0) opened their season with an 81-64 victory over Division II Malone on Tuesday night. Xeyrius Williams had 17 points and nine rebounds in his Akron debut after sitting out last season following his transfer from Dayton while Channel Banks added all 15 of his points from beyond the arc.

The surge in production offensively was a welcome site for the Zips, who averaged just 68.8 points in 2018-19 and shot 40.9 percent. Akron did not shoot much better Tuesday night at 42.3 percent, but Groce's team did grab 15 offensive rebounds that resulted in nine second-chance points.

Groce, though, was concerned about the 17 turnovers the Zips committed, as well as a slim plus-3 rebounding advantage.

“We’ve had a little bit of success through our preseason and it’s good for our guys to try to turn, obviously, a negative into a positive that maybe this will get their attention, especially when they see the clips,” Groce told the Akron Beacon-Journal.

Akron is 4-17 on the road in non-conference play since the start of the 2013-14 season.

Huggins, WVU ready to move on from disastrous 2018-19

Between injuries and suspensions, Huggins' 12th season at his alma mater was arguably his worst. The Mountaineers finished 15-21, just the second time they had a losing record since his arrival, and finished last in the Big 12.

West Virginia did salvage some pride with a surprising run to the conference tournament semifinals and grabbed a bid to the College Basketball Invitational, but with the lofty standards Huggins has set -- highlighted by his 2010 Final Four appearance -- it still left a bitter taste to the coach.

"You can't print what it was," he told Blue Ribbon Yearbook when asked to assess the trying season.

Now in his 38th season with 859 wins in the bank, the Zips make their second visit to Morgantown during his tenure -- the other was a 77-56 Mountaineers win in the 2011-12 season. Huggins took over the Akron program in 1984 after a three-season stint at NAIA school Walsh and guided the Zips to the 1986 NCAA Tournament while compiling a 97-46 record in five seasons.

That success got him noticed by Cincinnati, where he built the foundation of his national legacy before a pit stop in Kansas State prior to his arrival in West Virginia in 2007.

The silver lining of last season is that Huggins got his younger players plenty of experience in a meat-grinder of a major conference. Four starters return, led by Derek Culver, who averaged 11.5 points in 26 games. But Huggins must also integrate seven newcomers, including promising freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who averaged 23.4 points, 18.0 rebounds, and 5.0 blocks his senior year of high school.

Some of those transitional issues were apparent in their scrimmage versus Duquesne, a 78-70 victory on Friday, and Huggins is aware Groce has upgraded Akron's offense ahead of this contest.

"(Akron coach) John (Groce) runs good stuff," Huggins told the school's official website. "They run a lot of double-high, ball-screen stuff, a lot of ball-screen, dive and fill and they spread you because they can all make shots. They might put one guy on the floor that isn't a real good 3-point shooter so they try to get you spread out to where they can screen and roll."

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While there is a definite difference in quality from facing a Division II school to facing West Virginia, the combination of Akron's defense coupled with a West Virginia offense that does not look noticeably better even with four returning starters makes the Zips an attractive double-digit underdog.

This is the kind of early-season game where Akron should hang around until the final minutes before West Virginia does enough to win by a couple of possessions.

Prediction: Akron +11 (-110)

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There is still a healthy amount of skepticism regarding Akron's offense given its season-long struggles in 2018-19, and any Huggins-coached team will forever hang its hat on the defensive end of the court. This has the feel of a first to 70 wins game, and there is no guarantee either team will reach it.

Prediction: UNDER 145 points (-110)
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Written By Chris Altruda

A 1994 graduate of Marquette University when they were known as the Warriors and Brooklyn native, Chris Altruda is based in Chicago. Prior to joining our team here at Winners & Whiner, he worked at three major U.S. wire services and also has prior experience in sports handicapping and daily fantasy roster building. Now that the Cubs have won a World Series, he holds out hope the Jets will win a Super Bowl before he dies. Follow Chris daily right here at W&W and on Twitter at @AlTruda73. You won’t be disappointed.